Helping to Save England’s Industrial Heritage: My Day in Archaeology as Industrial Heritage Support Officer for England

My last site visit before lockdown in March 2020, Marple Limekilns, Stockport, to support the local group who are striving to preserve this impressive site.

This year’s Council for British Archaeology Festival is a two-part affair with a nine-day digital festival in July to be followed by physical events in October/November. As a response to the COVID-19 impact on archaeology and heritage this has been inspired. I have been able to contribute several items: an online interview on the impact of climate change on cultural heritage (including industrial archaeology), and a blog for the Day of Archaeology. Below is my ‘A Day of Archaeology’ text.

“I have been lucky enough to be an archaeologist for many years, specialising in industrial and community archaeology (www.archaeologytea.wordpress.com) and at the beginning of March 2020 I took over as the Industrial Heritage Support Officer for England (IHSO). The IHSO project is hosted by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and funded by Historic England. Regular updates are provided through the project’s Facebook pages (https://www.facebook.com/IHSOengland/), twitter posts (@IHSOEngland) and through the projects’ two websites  (https://industrialheritagesupport.com/ and https://industrialheritagenetworks.com/).

Britain was the world’s first industrial nation and has hundreds of internationally important industrial sites from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. The project’s focus is on nationally designated industrial heritage sites preserved as heritage attractions. These sites are run by a mixture of bodies from national charities such as the Canal and River Trust, English Heritage and the National Trust, to local councils, independent museums, and volunteer groups. The IHSO project has established Industrial Heritage Support Networks across most of England with seven in place (but currently in abeyance) and three outstanding. Regular updates are provided through the project’s online pages on networking and training opportunities, as well as the latest guidance on good practice and research within the sector.

The recently restored Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale, near Telford, survived unscathed the flooding of the gorge by the River Severn in February 2020.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has meant that since the 23rd March I have been working from home rather than my office at Ironbridge (with its stunning view of Abraham Derby’s 1709 furnace) or visiting sites: my final one before lock-down was a visit to advise a local group on raising monies to restore the late 18th century lime kilns at Marple in Stockport. All of the industrial heritage sites in England have been closed, volunteers and staff sent home, and local industrial archaeology and heritage society activities frozen. This has, however, provided an opportunity to review two datasets from 1998 and 2009 of industrial archaeology and heritage sites open to the public, in order to get a better understanding of the ‘collection’ of c.600 nationally designated industrial sites preserved as heritage attractions. Online meetings and phone calls (along with cat interruptions) have become a normal part of the daily routine with colleagues from Historic England, the Association of Independent Museums, and the European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH) amongst others.

As the industrial heritage sector looks to recover and re-open from the pandemic the IHSO project is focusing on the needs of the sector and how these can be aided. I am in the process of re-activating the regional Industrial Heritage Support Networks initially through online meetings and hopefully will be extending these to the remaining three areas in England in the autumn. Information exchange and remote networking will be key to helping spread best practice as the industrial heritage sector begins to recover. On a daily basis I am collecting data on its long term impact, looking at websites to asses which industrial sites remain shut, which have a plan for re-opening, and which have launched appeals for monies to aide recovery.”

Further help and advice for industrial sites preserved as heritage attractions, or potential volunteers wishing to get involved, is available by contacting the Industrial Heritage Support Officer (that’s me!) – mike.nevell@ironbridge.org.uk.

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